By Marcus Honesta.
I’m oft to wonder why stories get started; but more importantly what was the motivating force behind them. At a particular time, some have an impetus to take on a life of their own, leaping from the front page of their tabloid home, becoming blown out of all reasonable proportions. Whilst others disappear into the ether, overtaken by more sensational news worthy events. Some are done for personal notoriety or political points scoring, to shore up a position or cause, whilst others are even done for revenge with malice or greed their intention.
Enter Kingston Anderson, a little known political bureaucrat “a shadow” who has risen to the exalted rank of CEO: The Australian Directors Guild & Australian Screen Directors Authorship Collection Society (ADG), quite a mouthful isn’t it. Believe it or not, he’s been there for the past 6.5 years. So illusive is he, I had to look him up on his LinkedIn profile to find out who, or indeed what he did or does. But first a little background.
Prior to this present exalted office, he was Manager: Production Liaison Unit NSW Film and Television Office, 3 years: before that he was Manager Screen NSW (then called NSW Film & Television office FTO) for 3 years. It would appear form his CV. Kingston has never really directed anything more then a meeting.
Yet as CEO of the ADG he in an interview in the Australian Newspaper focused on what he believes are all the woes that currently befall the Australian television commercial film production industry. During his tedious diatribe he made some extraordinary comments and claims about the lot of the average commercial television director.
- Speaking from a 1960’s union playbook, the seaming misinformed Anderson declared: “the trend to import foreign directors for ads started a few years ago only with some of the really big ad campaigns”. “But now, it is increasingly across the board,” he said, “he estimates that up to 40 per cent of big-budget local commercial campaigns of $1 million-plus are now being directed by foreigners”. What is he talking about? Really big ad campaigns? Mr Anderson I’m sorry to have to inform you that 95% television campaigns these days fall well below the million-dollar mark, most even below half that.
- Forget about Production Houses margins being slashed to shreds. Crew costs rising by 23% here in NSW, effectively threating to take work interstate. OH&S rules that make your eyes water. Government and Council red tape and permits you have to be completed to shoot the simplest of set ups; that cost the earth, and take forever to get issued. Environmental impact issues, payroll taxes, noise pollution before 7.00am, impossible talent agents, and if that weren’t bad enough, clients who want every thing for nothing. Yet we find this pompous, sanctimonious, trumped up bureaucrat spouting that this is the greatest problem facing the industry today is…. fly in fly out Directors.
So as not to present what might be criticised as a lopsided view, we asked two of Australia’s leading production TVC consultants to assist with telling the real story. A story and position that Anderson it would appear blithely ignorant of.
They told CTL that the average budget for most local TVC range between 50K and 450K. One said: “It is difficult enough to take a shoot interstate, little own employ an international director on 25K USD per day plus travel, accommodation and per-deems”. “Budgets of 1 million plus are as rare as rocking horse shit”… Another said: “In the past 14years working with many of the largest commercial producers in the country budgets of 1 million plus were limited to 2 out of 400 productions”. He said: “It seems like a storm in a tea cup to me”. He added: “of the two 1M plus jobs we did, we used local Directors, (that is of course if you count Melbourne as being local)”.
Another fact that one of these consultants alerted me to was last year, he was prominent in securing a world wide production for a Fast Moving Consumer Goods company (FMCG) here in Australia. The production was shot over seven days using an all Australian Crew and an Australian Director. In total there were 63 commercials variations made during the shoot, bring employment to 58 crew and 35 talent. With respect Mr Anderson perhaps your efforts would be better focused on these sorts of endeavours.
Not satisfied with the Consultants views alone I spoke to one of the oldest, most established and awarded production houses in Australia. They said: Kingston who? They went on to say: “That they could count on one hand the number of million dollar budget that they have had in the past 10years”.
So what Anderson is spouting is shock jock, hyperbole, and political rubbish. It would appear he is using this scaremongering in an effort to secure his own personal position in a union whose relevance and worth is of little or at worst no real value to the industry at large.
But lets be fair and examine what his organisation has to offer the struggling film industry at large.
The ADG on their website states:
The Australian Directors’ Guild (ADG) is a registered union and industry association representing the interests of film, television and digital media directors, documentary makers and animators throughout Australia.
We are a registered organization under the Fair Work (Registered Organizations) Act 2009, representing Australian Directors who are employees.
After a long campaign over many years, the Guild became a registered union on 4 March 2015.
The ADG works to promote excellence in screen direction, encourage communication and collaboration between directors and others in the industry, and provide professional support for its members.
The ADG is proud to represent the key creative elements of the Australian independent production sector, and maintains its high profile in a cultural and policy role by addressing issues affecting the industry from a broad perspective.
What a load of meaningless waffle, seriously, who ever wrote this rubbish, should be writing Mills and Boon romance and fiction books.
But back to Anderson, he further went on to say to the Australian:
“Some of the big-name organisations that have made ads with foreign directors in recent years include KFC, NAB, Meat & Livestock Australia, Carlton Draught, Woolworths, Aldi, Target, Kmart, AGL, Bupa, Origin Energy, Energy Australia, NRMA, GIO, Holden and Ford”. We challenge him to name the ads he quotes, when they were made, by whom, and the budgets he is claims they were made for.
He sighted; “Two prominent recent ad campaigns with foreign directors that have run throughout the country in recent months are Carlton Draught’s Harlem Globetrotters-themed “Brewery Fresh” ads, directed by American Brian Aldrich, and the Holden Equinox SUV “Nothing to Prove” campaign, featuring the 1960s Sammy Davis Jr. hit I’ve Gotta Be Me, which has been directed by Britain’s Chris Balmond”.
“It has become increasingly fashionable in recent years for Australian companies — and their advertising agencies — to import “fly in, fly out” foreign directors to make their key ad campaigns”.
As pointed out earlier in this story, that is a gross exaggeration and a distortion of the actual reality in the whole.
In response to Anderson’s statements, the peak body for Australia’s commercial producers, the Communications Council, has strongly defended the use of overseas directors. The council has argued that any move to restrict foreign directors could have negative ramifications for the local industry, possibly by driving entire ad productions offshore.
Australia has an entertainment visa regime for foreign directors and other talent that requires there be a “net employment benefit” to the local entertainment industry before a visa is granted. But the problem is, according to Mr Anderson, “the test is not being enforced by the Department of Home Affairs” (formerly Immigration).
“Despite the Directors Guild’s objections, each and every visa application on behalf of a foreign director that the ADG is aware of has been successful,” he said.
However, Tony Hale, CEO of the Communications Council, which represents commercial producers, claims that any move to restrict the involvement of foreign directors in the Australian ad industry could have unwanted consequences.
“By not allowing international directors into Australia, we risk losing entire productions for commercials to regions like New Zealand, South Africa and Asia, meaning the whole crew misses out,” he said. “It’s a matter of bringing one person in and keeping the whole production, rather than losing the whole shoot to other countries.”
Mr Hale also said the council’s research suggested that the total incidence of local ad campaigns made by foreign directors was about 10 per cent. “About 35 per cent of local directors who we have surveyed undertake work overseas,” Mr Hale added.
Mr Hale also said: “setting up any protective barriers against foreign directors in Australia could backfire in terms of opportunities overseas for our local talent. “We have Aussies doing big shoots overseas, all around the world,” he said. “These are high-quality commercial producers. You’ve even had Baz Luhrmann doing big-budget ad shoots overseas for Chanel.”
Concluding his misguided monologue, the sententious Anderson further said: “This is a threat to the entire Australian culture. The way the culture is depicted through film and the media is already under threat from digital disruption through global streaming platforms. But now our own government is accelerating the cultural destruction by rubberstamping any visa application that comes their way for foreign directors on ad campaigns. We will end up with the homogenisation of everything, including film, TV and commercials.”
This sort of sanctimonious blustering and pontificating that comes from a political bureaucrat, intent on securing his own position with little thought nor care for to people whose survival in the industry he and his union should be representing. It hunkers back to the sad days old the Menzies era where Government used the image of the Australian “way of life” as the focus of its manipulation. Suggesting the fabric of Australian society was under threat from the evils of international intervention and the danger of influence from foreign threat.
My advice Mr Anderson is to review your focus. Your myopic closed shop mentality is reminiscent of the dark days of the Painters and Dockers union, demarcation disputes, work to rule, and the Costigan Royal Commission, Kingston; that all didn’t end well.